Pentagon: Al Qaeda, ISIS Presence Unknown Amid U.S. Evacuations From Afghanistan

The United States military doesn't know the size of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations' presence in Afghanistan, as troops attempt to evacuate thousands of Americans and Afghan allies from the country that's been overtaken by the Taliban.

"We do not believe it is exorbitantly high," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Friday. "It's not like they carry identification cards and register somewhere."

The admission came less than two hours after President Joe Biden defended the decision to put an end to the longest war in U.S. history and withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by implying that al Qaeda was no longer in the country.

"What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point with al Qaeda gone?" Biden told reporters during an update Friday on the status of evacuations. "We went to Afghanistan for the express purpose of getting rid of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, as well as getting Osama bin Laden, and we did."

Biden also said the United States would shift its focus to terrorism threats from al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups proliferating in other countries.

"The threat from terrorism has metastasized," Biden said. "There's a greater danger from [the Islamic State] and al Qaeda and all these affiliates in other countries by far than there is from Afghanistan."

The United States has been ramping up evacuations from Afghanistan following the fall of Kabul on Sunday.

A White House official told reporters the military airlifted 5,700 American citizens, Afghans who aided the United States during the past two decades of war and members of their families in a 24-hour period through Friday afternoon. Roughly 15,000 people have been evacuated since Saturday, plus an unknown number of people who have gotten out through private channels. The U.S. military had evacuated about 5,000 the two weeks prior.

Officials don't know how many Americans remain in Afghanistan who want to leave, but Biden said the mission will continue until all are out.

"Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home," Biden said in his second public address since the Afghan government fell to insurgents over the weekend.

Kirby stressed that the al Qaeda in Afghanistan isn't thought to be a threat to the United States.

"What we believe is that there isn't a presence that is significant enough to merit a threat to our homeland, as there was back on 9/11, 20 years ago," he said.

The war was launched in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

The goal was to "decimate al Qaeda" and prevent terrorists from launching attacks from Afghanistan, Kirby said.

"We did that and a whole heck of a lot more over the course of 20 years," he said.

Shortly after taking office, Biden, who has long called for removing troops from Afghanistan, vowed they would be out by the 20th anniversary of the attacks this year. He later moved that deadline to August 31, before the Taliban took over, creating chaos and forcing the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Al-Qaeda threat lingers in Afghanistan, Pentagon acknowledges
"Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home," President Joe Biden said on Friday. Members of Syria's top jihadist group the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance, led by al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate, parade with their flags and those of the Taliban's declared "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" through the rebel-held northwestern city of Idlib on Friday. OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP/Getty Images